Recently released movie Straight Outta Compton, has taken the world by storming re-introducing all of us to the talented ganster-rap group N.W.A. For most the story of the group, who’s members included Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, DJ Yella, MC Ren, and Arabian Prince, was known only as the media presented it. But for the first time, a bio pic was composed under the production of Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and Tomica Woods-Wright (Eazy-E’s wife).
After hearing so much hype over the film, and of course seeing the numbers sky-rocket at the box office, I was quite eager to see it. I thought at a time like this, swallowed in images of police brutality against the black community, it would be great to see a movie about people who made art out of that struggle.
And indeed it was appalling to see how ruthless (no pun intended) police were against young black men at that time, often stopping and searching them for no reason at all. It was also eerie to realize that those times are not to far from our own, as young black men continue to die at the hands of police officers.
I whole-heartedly admired the talent of N.W.A on a scale I never had before. I appreciate the brutal ways in which they spoke the truth about their realities, although the government relentlessly tried to silence them.
But there was one issue in the back of my mind that I couldn’t quite ignore. Throughout the whole film, the presentation of black women was almost disgustingly degrading to the point where I almost felt guilty for liking the movie so much. In the midst of the plot, black women were constantly shown as half-naked, party-props all too ready to bow to the rappers around them.
There was one scene in particular, when a woman by the name of Felicia was at a hotel party amidst other scantily clad black women, all of which were involved in sexual acts of some sort with members of N.W.A. When Felicia’s boyfriend shows up to cause some trouble over his missing girlfriend, Ice Cube’s character proceeds to kick her out the hotel after giving her a shove to the head and delivering the line “Bye Felicia.”
A part of me died a little, even as the audience erupted in laughter. It was almost ridiculous and I thought, we possibly cannot be that disposable, right?
In addition to their portrayal in the movie, it got me thinking about how N.W.A. as a group even spoke about women in their music. It was no secret that their blunt rhymes covered the topic of women, often referring to us as ‘bitches’ or mere objects for sex. They rap about it in a way that almost makes you want to pause in your head nodding and say to yourself:
“Wait…. what the hell did he just say?”
And to make matters worse, the issue of Dr. Dre committing domestic violence against more than one women resurfaced as the film gained popularity. I myself was unaware of the brutal attack he was accused of committing against Dee Barns, former host of Pump It Up! or the constant abuse singer-songwriter Michel’le reports experiencing at the hands of the rapper-producer. In one interview about the movie’s release she had this comment as to why she was not mentioned in the film:
“Why would Dre put me in the movie? I was just a quiet girlfriend who got beat up and told to sit down and shut up.”
So again, I found myself quite torn between finding the right place for my opinion while everyone could do nothing but rave about the new film and it’s effect on the current Black Lives Matter movement.
Yes, N.W.A. and movie Straight Outta Compton exposed the reality many black men face and continue to face, but the narrative of black women was still left in the shadows as always. Along with the alleged abuse Dr. Dre committed and even referred to in a previous interview. I believe director Ava DuVernay summed it up the best in recent her tweet about the movie:
Black women continuously find ourselves at the bottom of the barrel, and my question is why? No matter how many times black men justify the whole “When I say bitch, I don’t mean all women” argument, we constantly find ourselves having to swallow the pill that occasionally black men take joy in degrading us.
It’s hard to come to terms with, as I myself blast music that wants me to believe I’m just good for sex and being a “bad bitch”. Wanting to stand up for ourselves almost makes us feel like hypocrites, giving rappers passes for misogyny because the song has a good beat.
But I do know one thing…. no matter how conflicted we feel, we still have every right to demand respect. We have to ‘stay woke’ as they say, and in times like this realize that our dignity or self respect is not just something to be ignored in order to sell records…. or in this case movie tickets.